This past season, offensive coordinator Tim Beck trotted out his new offense for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. No one knew what to expect when the Huskers broke the huddle. After a year of seeing what works, what doesn’t and what could if properly executed, we’ll be looking at the top five formations that should be staples of 2012 BeckBall.
No. 5: Ace Formation
Base Personnel: Quarterback and one running back
Additional Personnel: Three wide receivers, one tight end or two wide receivers and two tight ends
Suggested Players: Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Kyler Reed/Ben Cotton, Rex Burkhead/Ameer Abdullah
The Ace formation’s signature is the backfield setup. The quarterback is under center and one running back is five to six yards back. The variation comes in the number of wide receivers and tight ends.
This formation allows a team to line up as many as four wide receivers while leaving the option of multiple tight ends allowing a team to utilize it in a variety of ways, from deep passes to outside runs.
Not Pictured: A wide receiver by the near sideline
With Nebraska’s players, this formation is truly dynamic. While it appears more favorable for passing, the Ace set lends itself to the Huskers’ running style. By spreading out the defense, the look opens up running lanes favorable to the Huskers’ outside runs.
In addition, the running back’s presence allows Nebraska to utilize play action. The various uses for the running game, combined with up to four receiving threats, makes the Ace an option Tim Beck can look to frequently.
Utilizing Nebraska’s Ace
The first look of the Ace we ‘ll discuss is the set that the Huskers frequently feature: Three receivers and a single tight end.
A likely set of wide receivers would be Enunwa, Bell and Turner with Tim Marlowe and Taariq Allen as likely alternates. The tight end position would likely see a constant rotation of Reed and Ben Cotton. Lastly, it goes without saying that Burkhead will be the primary back but expect Abdullah to have a presence.
With three receivers and an additional passing threat in the tight end, Nebraska has a lot of options with passing plays. Though under center, the presence of a running back provides insurance for Martinez to drop back for medium to long passes.
Personally, I’d prefer to see the formation used mostly with short (3-5 yards) and medium (5-15 yards) routes to set up longer passes and the run game.
This formation – and this personnel set in particular – is great for utilizing Kyler Reed. In 2010, Reed made a habit of slipping past the opposing secondary to the tune of 395 yards and eight touchdowns. His production fell in 2011 (257 yards and 2 touchdowns), but much of that was due to play-calling.
He simply wasn’t highlighted as a downfield threat as much in 2011. With the Ace formation, Nebraska could set up the longer gains with short routes. By using this look early in the game on short routes (crossing routes, curls, and slants), the offense can set up Reed for long gains just like 2010.
Above is an image of Kyler Reed’s 79-yard touchdown reception against Kansas State in 2010.
While from a different formation, the idea is the same.
Highlighted in the red, Reed takes off on a streak that the safety wasn’t expecting. In this shot, you can see the Kansas State player switching directions. The play action keeps the entire secondary in check just long enough.
Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie (routes in blue) and Burkhead (green) keep the linebackers near as Reed flies through the coverage. A different formation, but the same end result – Get the defense expecting run or short routes, penetrate with Reed deep.
The second set of the Ace formation we’ll look at is geared more towards running as we have two tight ends and two wide receivers. However, with Nebraska’s versatile tight ends, this set can also be used for deep passes.
The Huskers did this against Michigan last season, sending all four eligible receivers on streaks and Burkhead on a route out of the backfield. Though the play resulted in an incompletion, the tight ends were able to get noticeable separation against the slower Wolverine linebackers.
In this formation, I really like the option as both a primary set and a potential audible. Consider the play below.
On first and 10, Nebraska has the receivers spaced wide to the near sideline. In this formation, Martinez could audible to either side based on his defensive reads.
An option to the weak side – the far side in this case – would likely produce at least a short gain, while an option to the strong side offers a tight end and two receivers going against an already-spread defense.
Simply put: the Ace is flexible. Beck can call a medium-range pass play, Martinez can audible to an option and you at home will never know the difference because nobody had to move.